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Earth Day 2020: A Call to Equity in Climate Action

It’s the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and the 2020 theme is climate action. Today, much of the world is sheltering in place due to a global pandemic. While COVID-19 may change how we come together and demand climate action this year, it does not diminish the opportunity to raise our collective voices. In fact, it’s a perfect time to reassess and take a more holistic view of climate action.

As the impacts from the global pandemic highlight systemic inequities, Earth Day 2020 provides a moment for us to reflect on how climate change disproportionately impacts different groups of people. Our pursuit of climate action must acknowledge, explore, and advance equity.

The Climate Action Narrative Through an Equity Lens

First, we acknowledge that our company has a role to play in telling a more equitable story around climate action. 3Degrees supports organizations in reducing their climate impacts in a variety of ways. But how can we ensure that our day-to-day work advances our values around diversity, equity, and inclusion? How can we bring an equity lens to our climate work?

Our marketing team gathered for a virtual workshop last week to delve into these very questions. We learned new Zoom tips for virtual collaboration (annotate feature, anyone?) and discussed the importance of inclusive and equitable engagement, both internally and in our work with clients and partners.

Communications play a vital role in framing a narrative and engaging people to take action. I’m grateful to the amazing Vanice Dunn, Director of Equity at Provoc, who facilitated our workshop and highlighted the work of Open Society Foundations regarding the power of public narratives.

The stories we share and the content we consume advances or dismantles a narrative about how we view the world.

Examining the Dominant Narratives of Climate Change

Today, many of the headline-grabbing stories present a view of the world that is grounded in simplistic, either/or thinking. These narratives frame the discussion around a series of false choices: pandemic management or saving the economy; handling a global health crisis or protecting the environment; bolstering business or reducing emissions. These narratives present a false choice, enlisting us to choose a side. Perhaps just as problematic, this framing creates an artificial debate and distracts us from engaging with uncomfortable truths about broader systems and legacies of exclusionary policies.

On a personal level, I’ve been reflecting on the narratives I use to communicate climate action. The narratives generally celebrate progress by forward-thinking organizations. A few examples:

These statements are cause for optimism around climate action, as well as one marker of how far we’ve come since the inaugural Earth Day. While I am the first to applaud and promote these organizational actions, I’m noticing that I’m not always acknowledging the missing pieces of the climate action narrative. For example, the disproportionate impacts of climate change are not theoretical: people of color, Indigenous people, and low-income communities have already been adversely impacted by climate change.

As we rethink the narratives around climate change, some questions to consider:

  • Who is framing the problem?
  • What issues and people are not included in the framing process? Why?
  • How might another group of stakeholders frame the problem and potential solutions differently?

The answers to these questions reveal that there is a far more nuanced, complicated, and messy story about the uneven progress on climate change.

To honor an Earth Day focused on climate action, we must tell this story.

This Earth Day, I invite you to join us and begin your own journey to bring an equity lens to your climate action efforts. Not sure where to start? I encourage you to explore the environmental movement’s complicated history, as our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion business resource group reminded our employees during Black History Month this February. As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, it is a unique moment in time for us to pause and consider the narratives we create, consume, and share. And, it’s a long-overdue opportunity for us to craft a new climate action narrative, one with equity at the forefront.